i visited a friend in the hospital today. i went because she is my friend. i didn’t go because i’m the pastor and it’s my job to do it.
this has got me thinking.
in the church culture i have grown up in, it has always been assumed that it’s the pastor’s job to go and visit people in the hospital. almost every minister i have ever known has done this. i was taught in seminary (as well as the churches i have served in), that this was a necessary part of my calling.
to be honest, there are times i visit people because i’m their pastor. i do this because they, or their family, expect me to do it…or because i know they need me to be there. but, most of the time, though, i simply visit because they are my friends and that’s what friends do.
the idea that the pastor is supposed to visit people in hospitals is based on a lame theology and a narrow (at best) or faulty (at worst) interpretation of scripture. for a more detailed understanding of some of my frustrations with the modern pastor role, click on pastor in the “tags” section in the right hand column and you can check out some of my heresy.
scripture is clear that we are to pray for each other, bear each other’s burdens, encourage and love one another, and even call for “elders” to pray and anoint with oil when someone is sick. these roles are not restricted to one man.
requiring or inferring that the pastor be present when people are sick or hospitalized is a notion born out of the belief that pastors are really priests…holy men who have a hotline to god that is not available to the common man. we continually foster the idea that if something really, really important needs to happen with god, we need to get god’s most important people to get it done.
i reject this idea. so should you.
don’t misunderstand. i am humbled to be near people who are sick or struggling. there is no greater honor or responsibility i have than praying with or for people who are in crisis, fear or sadness. but the same should be true for every follower of christ! the same should be true for you!
this is what friends do for friends.
one of the things that people like about small churches is that “their pastor” will come when they are sick or in crisis. but what happens when a church family grows and there is simply too many people for one man to keep up with? this is at the heart of the bad theology. this is not one man’s job! this is the job of the body of christ. all of us.
if you would rather have one holy man come and offer a prayer before you go under the knife, you need to check your theology…and your head! what you need is a circle of close friends…and family…who will surround you with prayers and support and faith and encouragement. people who will breathe life into your apprehensions and blow away your fears.
there will come a time when the north point family is too large for me to be close friends with everybody. we’re already there. i will continue to try and do the best i can. i will come and stand by you as my time and schedule allows me to. but i will always come as your friend…or with a desire to be your friend… not your pastor.
and as your pastor-teacher-leader-counselor-minister-vicar-abbot-rabbi-friar-padre-program manager-and north point zoo keeper…i will continue to challenge you to be part of a circle of friends that will faithfully stand by and with you…and each other… through life’s toughest moments.